O'Grady's PowerPage » Hardware

Apple receives patent for solar multitouch panels, could harvest additional energy for iOS devices from sunlight

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Date: Tuesday, February 5th, 2013, 08:08
Category: Hardware, News, Patents

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This could turn into something very, very spiffy.

Per the United States Patent and Trademark Office, on Tuesday Apple a patent for an invention that integrates a touch sensor array with a solar panel, allowing for portable device to be both power-efficient and compact.

Apple’s newly-granted U.S. Patent No. 8,368,654 for an “Integrated touch sensor and solar assembly” points directly to the system’s use in portable electronic devices like a media player or phone. The technology is arguably most useful in these types of products as consumer demand for larger, power-hungry screens is pushing the limit of battery design.

Instead of merely layering solar cells within the touchscreen’s array, the ’654 patent calls for true integration, meaning the solar panel can operate as both an energy harvesting component as well as an optical sensor. To accomplish this feat, the touch panel’s electrodes are used for both capacitive sensing and collecting solar energy. Further, because the proposed component includes electrodes that offer the same “coverage” as a typical solar panel, it provides “far more quadrants or pixels” to be used as touch sensors.

Unlike capacitive touch panels, such as those used in Apple’s iPhone, the hybrid system’s solar panels can be used to simultaneously provide optical-based sensing while capturing and converting energy.

The patent offers a number of examples to illustrate the benefits of having a dual-mode touch panel. In one case, when an approaching object such a finger is detected, the panel may switch to a “capacitive sensing mode” for precise input, increasing the number of capacitive cycles within a given time period. In other situations, the panel may cycle between “solar power/optical sensing mode” and “capacitive sensing mode” depending on whether an object is near the screen. If no object is detected, the number of capacitive cycles is reduced, giving the electrodes more time to facilitate energy production from the solar cells.

Behind the scenes, a so-called “traffic control” unit, which can be either a hardware or software solution, decides whether generated energy should be allocated to running the device or sent to the battery for storage.

Physically, the capacitive touch sensors and solar cells are separated using isolation trenches, though both are routed through multiplexer circuitry. The MUX is fed either touch signals or power from the solar cells and delivers them to the CPU or power management unit, respectively.

While the technology may not be incorporated into the next iPhone Apple releases, the patent could help in cutting valuable space from the handset. With the most recent iPhone 5, Apple used in-cell touch panel technology to bring the phone’s depth down to 7.6 millimeters.

Apple first filed for the ’654 patent in September 2008 and credits Michael Nathaniel Rosenblatt, Benjamin Lyon, John Benjamin Filson, Steve Porter Hotelling, Gordon Cameron and Cameron Frazier as its inventors.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

128 gigabyte fourth-gen iPad now available for purchase

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Date: Tuesday, February 5th, 2013, 07:01
Category: Hardware, iPad, News

You know that enormous fourth-gen iPad you’ve been hankering for?

It’s here.

Per AppleInsider, Apple on Tuesday updated its online store to reflect availability of the new high-capacity 128-gigabyte iPad with Retina display.

The new high-end iPad model retails for US$799 for the Wi-Fi-only model, or US$929 with cellular connectivity. It’s available in both black and white, just like every other capacity, and is advertised to ship in one to three business days.

Apple first announced the product, which doubles the previous maximum capacity of 64 gigabytes, a week ago. Prior to the announcement, evidence of a larger capacity iOS device had just been discovered in the newly released iOS 6.1 software update.

In announcing the 128-gigabyte iPad, Apple suggested the expanded storage would be particularly appealing to enterprise users, educators, and artists. The company also noted that virtually all Fortune 500 and more than 85 percent of the Global 500 are currently deploying or testing the iPad.

Aside from the increased storage capacity, the 128-gigabyte iPad with Retina display is unchanged from the previous fourth-generation models. It includes the Apple-designed A6X processor, a 9.7-inch Retina display, and a forward facing FaceTime HD camera.

If you’ve snagged the 128-gigabyte fourth-gen iPad and have any feedback to offer, please let us know in the comments.

Apple to stop selling Mac Pro desktop in Europe following March 1st due to regulatory requirements

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Date: Friday, February 1st, 2013, 08:42
Category: Hardware, Mac Pro, News, retail

Well, this is a bit awkward.

Per MacRumors, sales of Apple’s Mac Pro desktop will stop in Europe on March 1 because of new regulatory requirements in the region.

Apple announced that sales will halt in a month in a letter the company sent to resellers on Thursday. The company cited Amendment 1 of Regulation IEC 60950-1, but did not explain what in particular about the Mac Pro desktop is in violation.

Halting sales of the Mac Pro won’t have much of an effect on Apple’s bottom line, as the high-end professional desktop is largely a niche product for the company.

In fact, it’s possible that the situation may have no effect at all on customers in Europe, as Apple has already revealed it’s planning to update the Mac Pro this year. It’s possible that Apple could update its aging desktop — and subsequently comply with European regulations — before sales are halted.

However, no timetable has been given for the Mac Pro update, with Apple only indicating that it will arrive sometime this year. Even analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who detailed Apple’s planned product roadmap earlier this month, offered no indication as to when the new Mac Pro may arrive.

Apple’s full letter provided to resellers on Thursday is included below:

As of March 1, 2013, Apple will no longer sell Mac Pro in EU, EU candidate and EFTA countries because these systems are not compliant with Amendment 1 of regulation IEC 60950-1, Second Edition which becomes effective on this date. Apple resellers can continue to sell any remaining inventory of Mac Pro after March 1.

Apple will take final orders for Mac Pro from resellers up until February 18th for shipment before March 1, 2013.

Countries outside of the EU are not impacted and Mac Pro will continue to be available in those areas.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Apple comments on upcoming Apple TV unit, says smaller form factor won’t affect performance

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Date: Thursday, January 31st, 2013, 07:33
Category: Apple TV, Hardware, News

Sometimes Apple drops some interesting hints about its unreleased stuff.

According to The Verge, despite details from a new FCC filing suggesting an updated Apple TV would feature a smaller form factor, Apple has indicated that the slightly tweaked hardware will look and function just like the current model.

Apple provided a statement on Wednesday in which the company downplayed speculation that a new Apple TV with a new look and experience may be forthcoming. Instead, Apple said the newly approved model is just a minor upgrade to the existing hardware.

“We sometimes make component changes which require an updated model number for regulatory approval,” the company said. “The component changes we made don’t affect product features and Apple TV customers will continue to have the same great user experience.”

The statement comes less than a day after the U.S. Federal Communications Commission revealed an unannounced Apple TV model identified as “A1469.” The filing suggested the unit’s design would be slightly smaller, shrinking from 98 millimeters to 93.78 millimeters square.

The filing also revealed that the new hardware would feature a low-power 40-nanometer Broadcom wireless chip identified as BCM4334. That’s the same chip already found in Apple’s iPhone 5, offering both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity.

But the comments from Apple reveal any changes to the hardware will not be noticeable to end users. Evidence has suggested the new Apple TV will feature a faster A5X chip, similar to the one the company used in its third-generation iPad.

It’s possible that Apple could be making the silent switch to an A5X chip in an effort to gradually ramp up production of the processor for another, more popular device. A strong candidate would be the iPad mini, which rumors have suggested will receive a high-resolution Retina display with a second-generation update later this year.

Apple used a similar approach last year when it launched the current Apple TV, a product update that added 1080p video support thanks to a shrunken A5 chip that uses the 32-nanometer manufacturing process. That same 32-nanometer chip was also placed inside the US$399 iPad 2 — a device that was previously powered by a 45-nanometer A5 chip. The new hardware, identified as “iPad2,4″, saw battery life improved by as much as 16 percent thanks to the design change.

This week Apple also issued a software update for an unannounced Apple TV model. The name “AppleTV3,2″ implied that the updated hardware would be a minor revision from the current 1080p-capable set-top box, which is identified in software as “AppleTV3,1″.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Rumor: Apple may incorporate fingerprint sensor into iPhone “Home” button for next-gen models

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Date: Friday, January 25th, 2013, 08:34
Category: Apple TV, Hardware, iPad, iPad mini, iPhone, iPod Touch, Rumor

This could be interesting.

Per AppleInsider, Apple is expected to launch a new iPhone this year with a fingerprint sensor hidden beneath the home button — an intuitive design that could be difficult for competing Android and Windows Phone devices to copy.

Analyst Ming-Chi Kuo of KGI Securities expects Apple’s acquisition of AuthenTec to pay off this year with the so-called “iPhone 5S,” the company’s anticipated next-generation handset. He believes Apple will find a way to integrate the fingerprint sensor into the home button, allowing Apple to retain its “minimalist design.”

In contrast, many Android and Windows Phone devices have more than one button below the display, and those buttons frequently lack the mechanical push of Apple’s home button. As a result, attempts to integrate fingerprint scanning on competing devices would be less intuitive, and could frustrate users, Kuo said.

He believes that with the addition of a fingerprint sensor below the iPhone’s home button, Apple will be able to replace the use of usernames and passwords, allowing users to authenticate in a more efficient manner. He also expects that the fingerprint scanner will integrate with applications such as Passbook to enhance their functionality.

Kuo has a particularly strong track record in predicting Apple’s future product pipeline. Last year, the analyst accurately forecast the company’s entire fall lineup, including the taller design of the iPhone 5 and iPod touch, thinner iMacs, the iPad mini, and the fourth-generation iPad with Lightning connector.

Beyond the “iPhone 5S,” Kuo expects a new handset based on the iPhone 5 design will also launch this year. Kuo’s comments are in line with recent rumors, that have pegged Apple as planning to release a more affordable iPhone model this year targeted at emerging markets.

Kuo believes the less expensive iPhone 5 will feature a new design, including a plastic casing, to cut costs and expand Apple’s iPhone lineup.

The analyst has also predicted that the iPad mini will gain a Retina display in 2013, while the full-size iPad will sport a lighter and thinner design with a smaller bezel. He also expects new Retina MacBook Pros with cheaper prices, the discontinuation of the legacy MacBook Pros, and a refresh to the Apple TV set-top box — but no full-fledged television set this year.

Microsoft to launch Surface Pro tablet, expand international availability on February 9th

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Date: Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013, 08:33
Category: Hardware, News

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If you’re hankering for more of Microsoft’s Surface tablet, you’re in luck.

Per AppleInsider, Microsoft announced on Tuesday that it will expand its Surface tablet lineup next month with the new “Pro” model running Windows 8, as well as a new “RT” version with 64 gigabytes of storage.

Surface Windows 8 Pro will be available for purchase on Feb. 9 in the U.S and Canada starting at US$899 for the 64-gigabyte version. The Surface Pro comes with a Surface Pen and is powered by an Intel Core i5 processor.

The 64-gigabyte standalone version of Surface Windows RT will run an ARM processor like the existing Windows RT tablets. The new high-capacity variant will retail for0 US$599, with the touch cover sold separately.

Microsoft will also launch new Surface accessories in markets where the tablet is still available. They are three limited edition Touch Covers, as well as the Wedge Touch Mouse Surface Edition.

The new Touch Covers will be available in red, magenta and cyan for US$129.99, while the Wedge Touch Mouse will be US$69.95.

Finally, Microsoft also revealed it will more than double the number of markets in which Surface Windows RT is currently available.

The 13 additional markets are Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. They join markets where Surface RT is already available: Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

If you’ve had a chance to tinker with the Surface and have any feedback to offer, please let us know in the comments.

DigiTimes falls back on larger-screen iPhone story, agrees with Wall Street Journal’s assessment of next-gen iPhone hardware

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Date: Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013, 07:55
Category: Hardware, iPhone, News

Sometimes you’re dead-on, other times it’s time to head back to the drawing board.

Per AppleInsider, Taiwanese publication Digitimes on Tuesday backpedaled on its previous claims that Apple would be launching a cheaper, yet larger-screened, iPhone variant in 2013 to combat a growing low-end “phablet” market.

While DigiTimes reversed its original take on big-screen iPhone debut, the publication is hedging its bets and contends that Apple will eventually release such a handset, just not in 2013.

The report went on to agree with the The Wall Street Journal’s story, which previously claimed that Apple is planning on releasing two separate iPhone models this year. In its piece, the WSJ cited sources as saying both a successor to the current iPhone 5 and a budget smartphone, possibly made of polycarbonate, would launch sometime in 2013.

Adding to Tuesday’s rumor, DigiTimes noted that both the next-generation iPhone and rumored handset will feature in-cell touchscreen panels. The current iPhone 5 already boasts the advanced screen tech that allows for a thinner device by integrating touch sensing components within the LCD array. Yield rates of the complex displays caused supply constraints when the latest iPhone launched last year, but those production issues are said to have been corrected.

The latest rumor may be unfounded, however, as Apple is thought to have chosen older touchscreen tech, in addition to non-Retina resolution panels, with the iPad mini in attempts to capitalize on already slim margins. In-cell screens are not yet an industry standard and therefore substantially raise a device’s bill of materials.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Rumor: Apple to release all-Retina iPad, MacBook Pro lineups in 2013

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Date: Wednesday, January 16th, 2013, 08:09
Category: Apple TV, Hardware, iPad, iPad mini, MacBook Pro, Rumor

Even though it’s a rumor, there’s got to be a nugget of truth in there somewhere.

Per AppleInsider, analyst Ming-Chi Kuo of KGI Securities has made his Apple hardware predictions for the upcoming year, and expects a bevy of new iOS and Mac product releases will help the iPhone maker address a wider swath of the market

Kuo, who has seen previous success in predicting future Apple products, says the company will introduce a number of new iOS devices in 2013, including an inexpensive iPhone 5, upgraded iPhone 5S, Retina display-toting second-gen iPad mini and a redesigned fifth-generation iPad, among others. He goes on to say that Apple will retire the non-Retina MacBook Pro line and replace it with an all-Retina lineup at a lower price.

Kuo is quick to note that none of the product forecasts are expected in the first quarter of 2013 and says “many” will be introduced in the second half of the year.

According to the analyst, Apple will release both an iPhone 5S with updated internals as well as an inexpensive version of the current iPhone 5 design with a thicker plastic chassis available in six colors. The iPhone 5S, which Kuo believes will launch sometime in June or July, will have largely the same aesthetic as the existing model, but will boast a built-in fingerprint sensor, improved camera and more powerful A7 SoC. A slightly revamped “new design” iPhone 5 is expected to go on sale as a less-expensive alternative to Apple’s flagship handset at around the same time, with the affordable price tag attributed to a plastic exterior that will be available in multiple colorways.

Kuo believes a new fifth-generation 9.7-inch iPad will launch with lighter frame and a more refined look, borrowing the narrow bezels seen on the iPad mini. In turn, the smaller tablet will move to generation two and get a Retina display that sports the same 2,048-by-1,536 pixel screen resolution as the existing full-size iPad. By using an identical resolution, app makers won’t have to make software changes to fit a new native format. The same thinking was used when the iPad mini was released with a resolution identical to the iPad 2.

As for Apple’s MacBook, the analyst sees an end of life for non-Retina MacBook Pros, which will be replaced by an all-Retina lineup that eschews optical drives. Pricing should be reduced to help move units. The MacBook Air will see little change besides a bump in internal specs as sizing down the high-resolution Retina display is seen as too steep a challenge at this time. Because the Air will not see a significant design change, the tweaked models are expected to arrive earlier in the year, with the all-Retina MacBook Pro line coming in quarter three.

In respect to the iPod product line, Kuo isn’t expecting much in the way of revolutionary changes. With the fifth-gen iPod touch released, Apple will likely introduce a cheaper variant of the current design without a camera and less built-in memory to reach a target price of US$199.

Finally, 2013 is expected to be the last year in which the Apple TV is considered a “hobby,” but Kuo doesn’t believe the company will introduce a full-fledged television set in the next 12 months. The existing media streamer is likely to morph into a serious business — possibly a full-fledged HDTV — in 2014, as Apple already has the infrastructure to support such a device with iTunes, the App Store and iCloud services. What the company lacks, however, is experience in the industry, especially concerning the establishment of a reliable supply chain. Kuo looks to the much-rumored “iTV” as a source of growth in the coming years.

Rumor: Apple to begin building preliminary “iPhone 5S” units this spring

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Date: Wednesday, January 16th, 2013, 08:24
Category: Hardware, iPhone, Rumor

If you were holding out for the next-generation iPhone, you can probably expect Apple to once again release something this summer.

Per AppleInsider, Apple will begin preliminary builds of the successor to the iPhone 5 in March, setting up for an earlier-than-expected debut in June or July, according to a new report.

Jefferies analyst Peter Misek said in a note to investors this week that two future iPhone prototypes are currently testing. At least one of these is said to be a so-called “iPhone 5S,” while the other could be Apple’s rumored low-cost iPhone.

Misek previously predicted in December that Apple will launch an incremental upgrade to the iPhone 5 this summer. He also believes the company’s next-generation iPhone, referred to as an “iPhone 6,” will sport a larger 4.8-inch display.

As word of the “iPhone 5S” production begins to spread, Misek expects there to be a slight slowing of demand for the iPhone 5.

He expects Apple to sell 44 million iPhones in the current March quarter — a number he noted is “still well above” recent concerns that shipments might be in the mid-30-million range.

Like some other analysts, Misek believes an apparent decline in iPhone 5 component orders from Apple is not related to significantly reduced demand for the popular handset. Instead, he believes the order cuts are related to three factors:
An assembly bottleneck that caused component inventories to rise in the holiday quarter.

Demand may be either in line or “slightly below optimistic expectations,” Misek believes.

While Misek expects Apple’s next iPhone to launch sooner than expected in the June-July timeframe, he also believes Apple is separately planning a low-cost iPhone that would be geared toward emerging markets like China. Such a device may already have been greenlit, he said.

“Similar to the iPad mini, we expect a concentrated low-cost iPhone rather than a ‘cheap’ one,” he said. “Likely specs: polycarbonate case with 4″ non-Retina display and no LTE.”

In his view, a less expensive iPhone would increase Apple’s smartphone market share, but would also decrease the company’s gross margins. He does not expect the rumored product to have much of an effect on the company’s earnings per share.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Intel licensing/certification restrictions holding up Thunderbolt adoption rate

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Date: Wednesday, January 16th, 2013, 07:15
Category: Hardware, News

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If you wondered why Lightning and Thunderbolt accessories were being adopted at a slow rate, there might just be an answer.

Per Ars Technica, a number of factors have played a part in the small selection of available Thunderbolt accessories, but the most significant may be Intel’s lengthy licensing and certification process.

A rundown on the state of Thunderbolt was published on Tuesday which acknowledged that accessories designed for the high-speed port remain a “niche.” It noted that more Thunderbolt-compatible devices are coming, but the initial selection has been limited thanks, in part, to Intel’s licensing requirements.

A number of vendors who spoke with author Chris Foresman claimed that Intel has been “cherry picking which vendors it worked with.” The chipmaker has apparently opted to work closely with a select number of vendors to ensure products would meet its stringent certification requirements.

Intel has denied that characterization, but did reportedly admit that it has had limited resources to approve new products. But Jason Ziller, director of Thunderbolt marketing and planning with Intel, also suggested licensing will expand to a greater number of vendors this year.

Another sign of potential improvement in Thunderbolt availability came last week, when Apple quietly released a shorter cable measuring half a meter in length, and also shaved US$10 off the price of the original 2-meter cable that debuted in 2011. Corning also showed off new Thunderbolt optical cables at CES that can transfer data over hundreds of feet.

Thunderbolt was developed in cooperation between Apple and Intel, and first launched on Apple’s MacBook Pro lineup in March of 2011. Since then, Thunderbolt ports have also begun to appear in some Windows-based PCs, though the number of available accessories has not yet taken off.

Thunderbolt pairs the high-speed PCI Express serial interface with the Apple-developed Mini DisplayPort to provide both data and video through a single port with I/O performance of up to 10Gbps. Originally codenamed ‘Light Peak,’ Intel had planned to use optical cabling but switched to copper wire because of cost constraints.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.